Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: NZ's 10 favourite wrestlers

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With the death this week of Kiwi wrestling great Robert Bruce, Chris Rattue gets on the top rope to cast an eye over our nation's greats in the grappling game.

1: Lofty Blomfeld

We've resisted scurrilous attempts by the younger brigade to have The Rock oust Lofty as New Zealand's greatest pro wrestler. Scurrilous, I say. Lofty Blomfeld was New Zealand wrestling. He was so big in the 1930s and '40s that this newspaper actually ran photos of his bouts that were bigger than snippets of news about things such as an impending war.

Other than the Going brothers' triple scissors, there is no more famous move in New Zealand sport than Lofty's Octopus Clamp. It's a definite "Don't Try This At Home" manoeuvre, unless your little brother is made of rubber and comes with a full parts replacement warranty. Lofty was also a great man, and worked hard for charities. Punters at his hotel in Whangarei willingly threw their change into a penny pile, perhaps fearing a return of the Octopus Clamp if they didn't.

Blomfeld turned down the chance to play centre for the Auckland rugby team in order to become a pro wrestler, and fought all over the world.

A truly great wrestler although he wasn't always so stunning in the snazzy name department - he was known as Walter Browning of Canada in Sydney wrestling.

* * *

2: The Rock

A true Rock off the old Flip. Dwayne Johnson's dad was a top tangler and his grandfather Peter Maivia was a star of Samoan and New Zealand wrestling.

He cmes from a family of maulers - his grandmother even ran Polynesian wrestling in the 1980s after the death of Peter Maivia. The family washing line is said to have positively groaned at times under the weight of strangely stretched tights.

Johnson lived in Auckland for a little while so we claim him as one of ours. He went on to a decent collegiate American football career but didn't make it as a professional so took the plunge off the top rope and fell into the family business.

The Rock was about as big as it got in world wrestling, and made a successful cross-code switch into Hollywood acting. This led to the inevitable rumour that when it got down to the final two in casting calls, Johnson sealed the deal by suggesting to the other contender, "I'll toss you for it."

Movie reviews have been quite favourable, and he even ran Johnny Depp close for a Kids' Choice acting award, which is an absolute travesty in thespian terms.

>>Video: The Rock holds a special 'Rock Concert' in Sacramento, CA

* * *
3: King Curtis

Old crater face was the scariest man on New Zealand television during the 1970s apart from Rob Muldoon. They could have filmed Deliverance up the lines on the Curtis forehead and he had a growl like a lion with its private bits caught in a blender.

King Curtis was the original wrestling villain to many of us. His full name was King Curtis Iaukea but he was just King Curtis to the mob.

The giant Hawaiian weighed around 130kg and he knew how to fling that flab about - not only inside the ring.

His favourite move was The Splash and the crowds loved both the man and his move.

According to cyberspace research, he was a guest speaker at the New Zealand Sportsperson of the Year awards, although it is probably difficult to find anyone who will admit to that.

The King restored a broken line of bad guy wrestlers that stretched back to Ted "King Kong" Cox, who was fined 3 in court in the 1930s for going berserk and mangling a referee during a fight against Blomfeld at the Auckland Town Hall.

"It's often difficult to distinguish between showmanship and something else," the judge told the Kiwi Kong. This, it could be said, was a motto that King Curtis took to heart. King Curtis also took New Zealand to his ample bosom but was allegedly last seen hiring out surfboards in Waikiki.

>>Video: King Curtis v Hans Shroeder (1973)

* * *

4: The Bushwhackers

Kiwis Luke Williams and Robert Miller were bigger than big in the United States in the 1980s and 90s as Luke and Butch, the comedy tag team known as the Bushwhackers.

They had faces that only a mother, or King Curtis, could love. Patriotically versatile, they turned up as Aussies for a while in the WWF with a kangaroo mascot.

Also known as the Sheepherders, which is a little more patriotically correct, although hardly awe inspiring.

>>Video: The Bushwhackers at home in, er, the Australian outback

* * *

5: Rick Martel

The first pretty boy of New Zealand wrestling, the French Canadian star was a highly technical wrestler, particularly when it came to doing his hair.

Martel was a key part of the heyday 1970s for pro wrestling when On the Mat was television gold. Played the housewife's favourite to King Curtis' villain.

Probably the only wrestler to bring out his own line of perfume.

>>Video: Rick Martel markets his signature scent

* * *

6: Steve Rickard

The Vince McMahon of New Zealand wrestling, Rickard was both wrestler and promoter. It is hard to know where New Zealand wrestling would be right now without Steve Rickard. Actually, it is hard to know where New Zealand wrestling is right now, but that wasn't the case when Rickard was running the show. He cut quite a dash in his prime but looked too much like someone's jovial dad to get much of a following when wrestling hit its 1970s prime. Still, he was Mr Wrestling and many of us wouldn't have a clue about the highly technical side of the sport if it wasn't for his expert comments delivered ringside.

It was probably only Rickard who could truly unravel the intricacies of the King Curtis splash. This ability to fly by the seat of his pants, so to speak, while in charge of a microphone paved the way for such luminaries of the lingo as Murray Mexted, and sport has never looked back.

Rickard even did the odd stint as a ring announcer and we are left to presume he also swept out the changing rooms and put up the fight posters.

* * *

7: Robert Bruce

The man whose death this week inspired our list of 10 favourite wrestlers.

The Scottish-born mauler was a legend of the New Zealand scene. Wrestling doesn't muck about when it comes to using national stereotypes and one of his famous moves was known as the Caber Toss. There was probably another one involving a kilt and if there wasn't, there should have been.

According to lore, his many injuries included ear damage suffered when a fan rammed a beer can into the side of his head.

Bruce was a wrestling bad guy with a heart of gold. He also made a seemingly seamless move from the mat to the film business.

A bear of a man, it is hard to believe he has gone.

* * *

8: John DaSilva

A boxing and wrestling champion, he wrestled at the 1956 Olympics, which lent a great deal of credibility to the pro-wrestling business Downunder.

The South Auckland-born DaSilva had an exotic heritage with a surname to match. DaSilva fought as a Maori warrior but his bloodlines were Portuguese, African, English and French Tahitian. Wrestling was never a sport to wrestle with its conscience.

* * *

9: Peter Maivia

The heavily tattooed Samoan-born grappler had an ongoing rivalry with Rickard in the 1960s.

The grandson of this "High Chief" is the famous wrestling Rock who has gone on to make it big in Hollywood.

Peter Maivia had already been there and done that. He played a taxi driver in the 1967 James Bond movie You Only Live Twice and helped arrange some of its stunt scenes.

>>Video: Peter Maivia v Stan Stasiak

* * *

10: Samoan Joe

Still fondly remembered by people in very high places at this newspaper which means he is an absolute sitter for this list.

Being wrestling, Samoan Joe's career was blighted with the constant rumour that Joe wasn't his real name but actually, it was. He looked vaguely like Billy T James in undies but had a strong fanbase and was an absolute must on the undercard.

Many will look back on Samoan Joe's career and feel that he wasn't always given the main event opportunities he deserved.

- NZ Herald

* nzherald.co.nz shows you where you can see NZ wrestling live:

Upper North Island
- Impact Pro Wrestling: www.impactprowrestling.co.nz

Lower North Island
- Kiwi Pro Wrestling: www.kiwiprowrestling.co.nz
- NZ Wide Pro Wrestling: www.nzwpw.co.nz

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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